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Numer: 48017
Dział: Języki obce

Reasons for teaching grammar

In his article titled ‘Teaching Grammar’ Jeremy Harmer (2003) noticed humorously that an interesting parallel can be drawn among three issues: teaching grammar, style of clothing and the profession of an actor. In the face of quick and rapid changes both in teaching approaches and human’s tastes they have always seemed to be and they still are very hotly debated issues as far as their ups and downs and fluctuated popularity are concerned. He even calls grammar ‘a fashion victim’.
There are many more or less convoluted definitions of grammar given by various grammarians.
Ur (1993) asserts that grammar is a set of rules that manipulate and combine words (or bits of words) to create acceptable units of meaning. Furthermore, she suggests that the process of constructing units of meaning is governed by grammar in every single language. This leads her to the conviction that a learner who is said to know grammar is the one who can apply the rules in order to make himself clearly understood.
Another definition is presented by Thornbury (1999), who explains that grammar is the study of possible forms and structures in a language and meticulous “description of the rules that govern how a language’s sentences are formed” (Thornbury 1991:1)
Celce-Murcia and Hiles (1988) construed it as a subset of rules that govern the configuration assumed by the morphology and syntax. There is a fundamental conviction that the above mentioned rules are naturally acquired by native speakers and unable to exist outside them. In other words, the rules of a language in the individual brains of native speakers are normally so automatic and natural to them that they are probably hardly capable of articulating the rules, however they are aware when the rules are being violated.
As far as second language acquisition is concerned, forms do not seem to be naturally acquired and demand instruction to be given. That agrees with the stance of Larsen-Freeman (1991), who points out that although at least some students can benefit from comprehensible input, for many it is insufficient. Still, she does not deny that grammar can be acquired naturally, as it seems to be underpinned by the case of native language acquisition. The idea of this phenomenon can be also supported by the fact that many successful second language learners picked up the language themselves only through living in the country where the language was spoken. Nevertheless, this tends to be a contentious issue since Larsen-Freeman (2003) in her article ‘From Grammar to Grammaring” sets forth a number of students who, despite the fact of living in this propitious environment for a long time, have failed to acquire even the most basic morphology of the language and whose English is far from accurate. She also touches on the question of the importance of learning circumstances through using the example of Lilia Topalova – an experienced English language teacher, who taught English for eighteen years in Bulgaria and additionally spent two years in Ukraine as a teacher trainer. Even though she does not object the fact that grammar might be learnt naturally in English speaking countries, she absolutely denies that idea as far as English learners in Bulgaria and Ukraine are concerned. What she endeavours to express is that teaching English to Bulgarian and Ukrainian learners, whose native language is thoroughly different from English, inevitably requires teaching a lot of grammar even young learners. This is mainly caused by the fact that those learners hardly ever have an opportunity to hear or speak English outside the class, in class itself their opportunities to do so are quite limited as well. They learn English in an acquisition-poor environment. Moreover, Larsen-Freeman (1991) asserts that it is unsatisfactory to supply the learners only with the minimal language instruction, but the optimal conditions should inextricably become a question of primary importance in order effective and efficient L2 pedagogy took place.

Stances concerning the presence of teaching grammar to children seem to be endless. Numerous grammarians admit that this is a very contentious issue that can be argued.
Brewster, Ellis and Girard (2004) are of the opinion that formal teaching of grammar is not normally the main objective as far as teaching English to young learners is concerned. Additionally, they accentuate the latest shift in understanding language learning only as learning and practising new vocabulary and grammatical structures towards learning English for developing communicative skills. However, when attempting to examine activities concentrated on communication, they stress the importance of the basic awareness of grammar and sentence patterns in order to make children’s participation in such activities possible. What is more, they argue that not only the form but also the functions of a language are the factors of major importance when appropriate language use is concerned. In the answer to the question how to make language use more motivating and at the same time more meaningful, they state that the best solution is to provide young learners with the possible usages of grammatical structures for authentic communicative purposes.
Another approach to teaching grammar to children is presented by Batstone (1994) who explains that grammar and the ability to combine words into sentences constitutes an inseparable part of language learning and should constitute it in the case of teaching children as well.
Cameron (2001) claims that it cannot be unnoticed that “grammar is closely tied into meaning and use of language, and is inter-connected with vocabulary.” (Cameron 2001:96). Additionally she emphasises the fact that “grammar does indeed have a place in children’s foreign language learning, and that skilful grammar teaching can be useful” (Cameron 2001:96) She also lists several ideas about grammar and young children in general:
• Grammar is necessary to express precise meaning in discourse,
• Grammar ties closely into vocabulary in learning and using the foreign language,
• Grammar learning can envolve from the learning of chunks of language,
• Talking about something meaningful with the child can be a useful way to introduce grammar,
• Grammar can be taught without technical labels. (Cameron 2001:98)
To this may be added the opinion of Lewis and Mol (2009) who also accentuate the importance of focus on grammar, if perceived as ”grammar which works through examples, games and activities that let learners ‘make sense of this madness’ through an age-appropriate critical analysis of language” (Lewis and Mol 2009:4)
The necessity of teaching grammar to young learners is also highlighted by Kmieć (2006), who in her article titled ”Children as Language Learners. Why Teach a Foreign Language to Young Learners?” describes an example of children’s creativity. She noticed that after having heard and practised simple sentences children spontaneously added new elements on their own. Those who have memorised some patterns are of the opinion that they already know
‘a lot’ and tend to use them in different contexts. This sometimes leads to breaking down the phrases and rearranging them in a new order, and finally inserting words or phrases in their native language. It is well known that children are very eager to use a language to communicate. The grammatical correctness of their utterances seems to be less important than the message they want to convey. This can lead to a conviction that if kids were exposed to a regular application of the selected basic elements of grammar, the mistakes could be avoided. At this point it becomes clear why grammar should be taken care of even in the case of very young learners.
Although some teachers emphasize the irrelevance of teaching grammar to young learners, Cameron (2001) sets forth a number of reasons why it should be taught:
• Grammatical accuracy and precision matter for meaning,
• Form will not be learnt accurately without paying proper attention to them,
• Form focused instructions are especially relevant,
• Paying too much learners’ attention to express the meaning may lead to negligence of attention towards accuracy and precision,
• Only proper teaching can draw children’s attention to features of grammar in the language they learn,
• Noticing an aspect of form tends to be the first stage of learning it and then become a part of the learner’s internal grammar.

To this may be added the opinion of Turula (2003:19), who in her article “Words or Grammar?” stresses the importance of teaching grammar stating that: “ (...) body language and ample lexis make up for the lack of structure may be enough for a vacation abroad; it most obviously not suffice at (...) important language exams“. And it is obvious that the level of proficiency of every language learner is by no means measured by numerous test and exams, that he or she has to sit during his adventure with the foreign language. The conclusion may be that the sooner the teacher will start preparing students for writing exams the better.
In conclusion, most of grammarians’ ponderings, nonetheless, end with the belief that indeed there is a place for focus on grammar even to young learners.

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